Today’s Holy See Press Office Bulletin tells us that Pope Francis received a thousand German Lutherans in audience at the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican:
The Holy Father described this as a “beautiful initiative” and thanked the bishops who supported and accompanied the pilgrims.
“Let us give thanks to God”, he said, “because today, as Lutherans and Catholics, we are journeying together on the way from conflict to communion. We have already travelled an important part of the road. Along the path we feel contrasting sentiments: pain for the division that still exists between us, but also joy at the fraternity we have already rediscovered. Your presence, so numerous and enthusiastic, is a clear sign of this fraternity, and it fills us with the hope that mutual understanding may continue to grow”.
“The apostle Paul tells us that, by virtue of our baptism, we all form the single Body of Christ. The various members, in fact, form one body. Therefore, we belong to each other and when one suffers, all suffer; when one rejoices, we all rejoice. We can continue trustfully on our ecumenical path, because we know that despite the many issues that still separate us, we are already united. What unites us is far greater than what divides us”, the Holy Father emphasised, noting that at the end of the month he will travel to Lund in Sweden to commemorate, along with the World Lutheran Federation, the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, and to give thanks to God for the official dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics.
“An essential part of this commemoration”, he observed, “will consist of turning our gaze towards the future, with a view to a common Christian witness to today’s world, that thirsts so greatly for God and His mercy. The witness that the world expects of us is above that of rendering visible the mercy God has towards us, through service to the poorest, to the sick, to those who have abandoned their homelands to seek a better future for themselves and for their loved ones. In placing ourselves at the service of those most in need we experience that we are already united: it is God’s mercy that unites us”.
The very idea that the Catholic Church is “commemorating” the 500th anniversary of the “Reformation” is astonishing. It is no surprise that Pope Francis chooses to focus on the shared pursuit of corporal works of Mercy since the doctrinal differences that separate us are still incredibly profound. Consider how forcefully Luther’s revolt was condemned by Pope Leo X in his June 15, 1520 bull, Exurge Domine:
No one of sound mind is ignorant how destructive, pernicious, scandalous, and seductive to pious and simple minds these various errors are, how opposed they are to all charity and reverence for the holy Roman Church who is the mother of all the faithful and teacher of the faith; how destructive they are of the vigor of ecclesiastical discipline, namely obedience. This virtue is the font and origin of all virtues and without it anyone is readily convicted of being unfaithful.
Therefore we, in this above enumeration, important as it is, wish to proceed with great care as is proper, and to cut off the advance of this plague and cancerous disease so it will not spread any further in the Lord’s field as harmful thorn-bushes. We have therefore held a careful inquiry, scrutiny, discussion, strict examination, and mature deliberation with each of the brothers, the eminent cardinals of the holy Roman Church, as well as the priors and ministers general of the religious orders, besides many other professors and masters skilled in sacred theology and in civil and canon law. We have found that these errors or theses are not Catholic, as mentioned above, and are not to be taught, as such; but rather are against the doctrine and tradition of the Catholic Church, and against the true interpretation of the sacred Scriptures received from the Church.
With the advice and consent of these our venerable brothers, with mature deliberation on each and every one of the above theses, and by the authority of almighty God, the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own authority, we condemn, reprobate, and reject completely each of these theses or errors as either heretical, scandalous, false, offensive to pious ears or seductive of simple minds, and against Catholic truth. By listing them, we decree and declare that all the faithful of both sexes must regard them as condemned, reprobated, and rejected….We restrain all in the virtue of holy obedience and under the penalty of an automatic major excommunication….
Moreover, because the preceding errors and many others are contained in the books or writings of Martin Luther, we likewise condemn, reprobate, and reject completely the books and all the writings and sermons of the said Martin, whether in Latin or any other language, containing the said errors or any one of them; and we wish them to be regarded as utterly condemned, reprobated, and rejected. We forbid each and every one of the faithful of either sex, in virtue of holy obedience and under the above penalties to be incurred automatically, to read, assert, preach, praise, print, publish, or defend them. They will incur these penalties if they presume to uphold them in any way, personally or through another or others, directly or indirectly, tacitly or explicitly, publicly or occultly, either in their own homes or in other public or private places.
One cannot help but wonder, therefore, how what Francis states could be true: “What unites us is far greater than what divides us”.
Further, while Francis speaks — as he always does — of mercy, it is not as though Pope Leo lacked compassion; the sadness he had over Martin Luther’s rebuffs of papal clemency clearly troubled him deeply:
As far as Martin himself is concerned, O good God, what have we overlooked or not done? What fatherly charity have we omitted that we might call him back from such errors? For after we had cited him, wishing to deal more kindly with him, we urged him through various conferences with our legate and through our personal letters to abandon these errors. We have even offered him safe conduct and the money necessary for the journey urging him to come without fear or any misgivings, which perfect charity should cast out, and to talk not secretly but openly and face to face after the example of our Savior and the Apostle Paul. If he had done this, we are certain he would have changed in heart, and he would have recognized his errors. He would not have found all these errors in the Roman Curia which he attacks so viciously, ascribing to it more than he should because of the empty rumors of wicked men. We would have shown him clearer than the light of day that the Roman pontiffs, our predecessors, whom he injuriously attacks beyond all decency, never erred in their canons or constitutions which he tries to assail. For, according to the prophet, neither is healing oil nor the doctor lacking in Galaad.
The fact is, Luther did not repent. He never, as Leo ardently hoped, found it within himself to “abstain from his pernicious errors that he may come back to us”.
In modern terms, a commemoration is not typically a somber affair, but a celebration. What is the basis of this unity we hear so much about? Have the Lutherans repented of the five hundred year old schism their namesake fomented within the Church? Have they rejected the 41 errors laid out in Exurge Domine? Have they submitted to the Roman Pontiff, which is necessary for salvation?
We have heard, in recent years, an abandonment by top Catholic prelates of the idea of an “ecumenism of return” — that is to say, an ecumenism that seeks to reconcile other Christian sects with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church by bringing them home into the fullness of faith. We have seen gestures — such as Francis strongly suggesting that Lutherans can, if their conscience allows it, receive Holy Communion in a Catholic Church — that defy the centuries-old proscriptions against the appearance of false unity with those who hold to Christian heresy, and the Eucharistic profanation that would result.
The message of Francis in October of 2016 flies in the face of the admonitions found in Mortalium Animos, the 1928 encyclical of Pope Pius XI on the topic of “religious unity.” Compare the statements yourself. Francis said to the Lutherans gathered in Rome today:
While theologians continue their dialogue in the doctrinal sphere, continue insistently to seek opportunities to meet each other, to get to know each other better, to pray together and to offer your help to each other and to all those who are in need. In this way, freed of every prejudice and trusting only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that announces peace and reconciliation, you will be true protagonists of a new season in this journey that, with God’s help, will lead to full communion. I assure you of my prayer, and ask you, please to, pray for me, as I am in need.
But Pope Pius made clear the error of this thinking when he wrote:
[M]any non-Catholics may be found who loudly preach fraternal communion in Christ Jesus, yet you will find none at all to whom it ever occurs to submit to and obey the Vicar of Jesus Christ either in His capacity as a teacher or as a governor. Meanwhile they affirm that they would willingly treat with the Church of Rome, but on equal terms, that is as equals with an equal: but even if they could so act, it does not seem open to doubt that any pact into which they might enter would not compel them to turn from those opinions which are still the reason why they err and stray from the one fold of Christ.
8. This being so, it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ. Shall We suffer, what would indeed be iniquitous, the truth, and a truth divinely revealed, to be made a subject for compromise? For here there is question of defending revealed truth. Jesus Christ sent His Apostles into the whole world in order that they might permeate all nations with the Gospel faith, and, lest they should err, He willed beforehand that they should be taught by the Holy Ghost: has then this doctrine of the Apostles completely vanished away, or sometimes been obscured, in the Church, whose ruler and defense is God Himself?
If our Redeemer plainly said that His Gospel was to continue not only during the times of the Apostles, but also till future ages, is it possible that the object of faith should in the process of time become so obscure and uncertain, that it would be necessary to-day to tolerate opinions which are even incompatible one with another?
The schizophrenia of the post-conciliar Church continues to intensify at a fever pitch. What once was true cannot now be condemned as false, or explained away by phrases like “historical context”. Francis has set himself against his illustrious predecessors in his commitment to religious indifferentism, and it will not stand. Either they were right then, or he is now. Their views are simply incompatible.
We are certainly not “journeying together,” for the paths to salvation between ourselves and other Christian sects seriously diverge. The only course of unity for Catholics and Lutherans is through the repudiation of Lutheran error, the conversion of those who hold to this revolutionary creed, and the restoration of oneness within the One True Faith. Anything less only endangers souls — a terrifyingly common theme in this pontificate.
Let us pray for the true unity of all Christians “in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church”.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.